When her estranged father falls into a mysterious coma, a young woman seeks answers at his old villa, where she and her stepsister uncover dark truths.
If you are at all into horror (which assumedly you are since you have found your way to this website), and especially if, like me, you like to keep up with what’s going on in the Asian horror front, you no doubt have come across the name Timo Tjahjanto in the past couple of years. Most genre fans are at very least familiar with his brilliantly savage segment “Safe Haven” in V/H/S 2 and those who, again, like me, have gone from there to seeks out more of his work, might have also uncovered titles such as Macabre; a delightfully brutal cannibal romp from 2009, or perhaps his 2014 serial killer drama Killers (both of which directed under the title “Mo brothers”). 2018 was especially good year for Mr. Tjahjanto as he brought out not one, but two major movies on one of the biggest streaming services in the world, May the Devil Take You being one of them. It follows very much in the same unrelenting style as his previous work, this time mixing supernatural elements with the bloody brutality his work has come synonymous with.
The story starts with Alfie (Chelsea Isla), an estranged daughter of a wealthy businessman Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy), being summoned to her father’s bedside at the local hospital. While there, we are also introduced to the halfsiblings Maya (Pevita Pearce), Ruben (Samo Rafael) and Nara (Hadijah Shahab) as well as their mother and Alfie’s wicked stepmother Laksmi (Karina Suwandhi). It becomes obvious that despite their fathers former success in business, the family has fallen into hard times in the past few years, and some of the family members are there not so much for cathartic reasons, but to see what little they can still squeeze out of the old man. Alfie on the other hand is there to speak her mind, and maybe finally get some closure with the man who abandoned her and her mother and who by all accounts wasn’t very much of a father after Alfie’s mother passed away in a tragic accident. This not so heartfelt reunion is quickly interrupted by a supernatural encounter, making Alfie suspect that something else than mere poor lifestyle choices might be behind his father’s early demise.
As a resourceful young woman she heads down to the old family villa in the search of answers, only to find the rest of the gold-digging family there looking for things of more material nature. In all fairness not all the members of her extended family are complete monsters; the stepbrother Ruben and sister Nara are both quite likable. Ruben is the sensible one trying to build bridges between the sibling and Nara just simply too young to be nasty or yet to be corrupted by her mother’s or older sister’s influence. But of course, this does not stop either from going along mother dearest plan and helping her and Maya in the search of hidden riches. However, before anyone can find anything of value, Laksmi in her greed orders Ruben to break down the basement door; a door covered in spells. After this all hell breaks loose. Soon the already incredibly unpleasant wicked stepmother becomes downright unbearable as she gets possessed by the powers lurking the dingy basement. It does not take long for Maya to follow suit, leaving Alfie, Ruben and Nara to fend for themselves, all the while trying to figure out just what fresh hell is going on around them.
It’s obvious that Tjahjanto has great love for Sam Raimi’s 1981 possession romp Evil Dead. While the setting of the story is of course different, so many aspects echo Raimi’s classic that you would have to be blind not to see the connection. The extreme violence, the over the top make up, very aggressive and quickly proceeding possessions all bring to mind the same film. The thing Tjahjanto’s film is missing is the humour. While Evil Dead offered some good laughs alongside all the insane action, May the Devil Take You takes on a much more serious approach to the genre and always keeps the tension at maximum. Most of the special effects are very well executed and there is an abundance of bloodshed of various forms, including a wonderfully nasty scene with someone peeling their own face off. Amongst the violence there also some genuinely creepy and tense moments, most of them including the possessed Laksmi, who in my opinion is the most terrifying of all the ghouls that Alfie and the crew come across. Perhaps because of the stellar make-up work done on her or maybe because she is a honestly dislikeable character and gives a real, shall we say, devilish vibe ever before any evil forces have entered her body.
Where the film falls down is it’s running time. This is a problem that has plagued Tjahjanto’s work previously and unfortunately is once again repeated here. It’s not a major issue, but the film could definitely benefit from being 15 to 20 minutes shorter. Despite the high paced action and ridiculous amount of violence, the last third of the film starts to get a repetitive feeling and the story drags on for way too long. You might also find yourself questioning some of the choices the characters make (such as not walking to the near by village as soon as the sun is up) which also takes away from the enjoyment of the film. Additionally, I had a slight problem with some of the CGI, which on occasions made what could have been quite a scary scene just seem a little silly. Again I’m questioning why some of the special effects were done with very decent make-up and others with not so great CGI, especially when the end result is making the main antagonist look like a slightly unhinged vampire, rather than a terrifying servant of Satan come back to get what she’s owed, but I guess that is a question that I will never get a satisfactory answer for.
All that being said, May the Devil Take You is as a whole a very entertaining package. There are some minor niggles, but nothing so big that you wouldn’t be able to get past them. It offers great gory action, eerie supernatural atmosphere and just good old check-your-brain-at-the-door kind of entertainment. May the Devil Take You is available on Netflix with a sequel May the Devil Take You: Chapter Two in the cards for 2020.